The Gateway to India from the ferry.
A sleepy dog.
August 24, 2006
Some of you might be more familiar with the former name of this city – Bombay. The name only changed in 1996. Much like I
still call AT&T Park (unless it has changed yet again) in San Francisco ‘PacBell Park’, most locals here still refer to this city as
I am not sure that I can be too good of a judge of character regarding this city. Why, you ask? It is just so huge. For that
reason, I really did not have the energy to go explore. If I were here with a friend, it would have been fun to go out. While I
have no problem going out in other cities, there is something different about Mumbai. The people who go out here are not
‘people traveling around’ …they are Mumbaikers. They dress to the nines. I feel intimidated in their presence. They wear
beautiful saris. I wear a tank top. They have their hair and make-up done. My beauty regimen consists of throwing my hair
back in a clip. They have designer shoes and purses. I have flip-flops and a mini-messenger bag. I think I have painted a
pretty good picture of why I would be less-than-excited to go out here. This is not a place to have a ‘night on the town’ with the
limited luggage that I have in addition to the absence of friends. I have no problem doing things on my own but even I draw
the line somewhere…and I think going to a cool bar in Mumbai is that place.
I stayed in an area called Colaba on my first night. This is near the Gateway to India. It is basically exactly what it sounds like
– it used to be the main entry point for anybody entering the country. Now it just seems more like a place where they run
short ferry trips for tourists or trips out to Elephanta Island. I took a ferry ride because I am always a sucker for spending
time out in the sea. In all honesty, I knew I wasn’t going to be going around this city looking at one big building after
another…so I at least figured this was my chance to do something in Mumbai. I did also find a good place for dinner a la my
Lonely Planet book. It was casual yet hip and I had one of my best meals in India there (I feel guilty, though, saying that it was
not Indian food).
When I got back to the hotel, I turned on my television. Black fuzz. Hmmm…. Later I would find out that there was some ‘adult
content’ that ended up being aired and the Mumbai police got involved. They placed a ban on the cable companies and to prove
a point, the cable company cut the cable lines in the entire city. So Mumbai was without cable telly for over a day. And of
course this would happen at the one hotel that had CNN World News. Oh well.
Yesterday morning I would set out on a mission…change my plane ticket to Russia so that it matched the date that my visa is
for. I found Aeroflot’s address on their website, found the neighborhood on a map in my Lonely Planet and took it upon myself
to find it. Well, myself…and the four or five people along the way that I had to ask for directions. In the end, I was victorious. I
found the office, asked if they could change the ticket and they did. And they did not even charge me a change fee! I love them!
Of course I am sure that view will quickly change after what I have heard about their airline fleet. I think it might be many
hours of me crossing my fingers and praying to God while I am onboard. But at least I won’t be pulling a Tom Hanks and
sleeping in an airline terminal. I will be allowed in their country upon arrival!
My job was done here in Mumbai. It was time for me to head to my little haven. This would be the night that I would use a free
hotel night at the JW Marriott. It was the anti-Mumbai. To be honest, Mumbai seemed like a rather normal large city. Nobody
asked me for money when I was walking around today. But Mumbai is also home to the poorest slums in all of Asia. Because
‘Mumbai’ covers such massive ground, I would only see a bit of this on my train ride coming into Mumbai. But let’s face
it…checking into a nice hotel was going to eliminate any possibility at all of me stumbling upon areas like this. But I was not
apologizing for doing this. First of all, the hotel night was free (I was using a certificate that expires at the end of this month).
Second of all, there is nothing wrong with incorporating a bit of my Western world into this trip. ‘Real India’ is much more than
just poverty as many people will make you believe. It is also insane wealth. This hotel would house many of the upper-crust
Indians. And while I belonged at the hotel just as much as they did, I was once again intimidated based on my appearance
versus theirs. While this sounds vain and silly, it really is not. I just sat back and watched designer dud after designer dud walk
by. Oh, how I was just craving to have at least one of my designer bags with me (okay, so they were passed down to me by my
mom…but still). And here is a prime example of India being so rich in contrasts. I decided to go outside of the security gates
and walk around the Juhu Beach area for a little bit. Most of the Indians that I just saw out there will probably never even see
the amount of money a Ferragamo purse costs in their lifetime. Then, being back in the hotel, I was surrounded by the Indians
who do not even flinch when it comes to buying something from Versace (I use that brand as an example as they had a store at
I find it incredible how a person’s wants and needs can depend so much on their surroundings. Prior to coming to Mumbai, my
thoughts were ‘Stop being such a brat by thinking that you don’t have many clothes with you.’ And I knew I was right. The
majority of people I was seeing probably only owned the outfit that was on their back. I knew that when I go home I
could…and would…lead a more simple life. I have been washing my face everyday with soap and water. I have not been
wearing make-up. It would not be necessary for me to stock up on every known product to man when I would go home.
Cleanser, moisturizer, make-up basics – those would be the only things I would buy. The bonus would be an uncluttered
bathroom. But now being in Mumbai, my mind was shifting to other thoughts. One thought that I remember was ‘Oh, I really
want to buy a Louis Vuitton when I get home.’ How sick is that? It just shows how quickly that I can digress. But then I get a
whole range of thoughts going through my head. And one of them is wondering why I need to feel so apologetic about this. I
just need to stop feeling guilty that I sometimes like to indulge in nice things. I guess that is a downfall to seeing so much
poverty in the world…it is very easy to be left with a guilty conscience. It is easy to feel like one big hypocrite.
Well, on that token… I have somewhat set the stage for talking about how my night would end today before I would come to
I decided I would have a body polish treatment at the spa at the hotel. How could I pass it up (as it was under $40)?
Ohhh…was it nice. I don’t think I have been this clean for over four months. Afterwards…when I was relaxing with some tea in
the waiting room…I was talking to a guy who was of Indian descent but from London. While talking to him, the girl who worked
at the spa came up to him to ask him something regarding his jacket being pressed. He clearly needed it for going out tonight. I
could tell right off the bat that he was very well-off. And then it dawned on me. When people are in spas…everyone in the same
robes and same slippers…we are all equal (it’s like how they say it is when Muslims go into mosques – at that time, they are all
equal). Anyway, it did not matter at all that my wardrobe consisted of only tank tops and flip flops as we were all in the same
place for the same reason right now. And we were all donning the same attire. Being at the spa would be my first time in
Mumbai where I felt equality. I know a lot of this is my own issue about feeling like such a scrub. But it was nice to be on an
even playing field for once…
I am now at the airport waiting to board my plane for the Maldives. I had a major brain lapse when packing up my bags and
forgot about the new airline security rules. Sadly, I have been robbed of my last little bottle of anti-bacterial gel (what am I
going to do for my last two weeks in India???), my L’Occitane super-duper hand cream and my tinted Kiehl’s lip gloss. The last
two even qualify as being ‘luxury items’ I brought on this trip. How pathetic is that? It is just that I have regular lotion but I
really wanted to have the hand cream with me to provide my hands that extra moisture. My hands will have to deal with
being deprived of this. And considering I am really never applying make-up, my tinted lip balm was nice to have on hand when
I wanted to spruce myself up a little bit. Now I guess it is back to plain old lip balm. The good news was that they did not snag
my bottle of wine that I am bringing with me to the Maldives. I saw them confiscate somebody else’s so I should at least feel
lucky about that…